You Can't Handle the Truth

One thing that Republicans and Democrats have in common is a parallel disbelief over how the other side’s politicians get away with telling so many fibs, distortions, and outright lies.

But one reason politicians tell tales is that their supporters will usually believe whatever they want to hear — even if what they hear turns out to be false.

The Washington Post does a great job summarizing research showing that people tend to say “thanks, but no thanks” to the truth when it corrects a fib that meshes with what they already believe.

More interestingly, sometimes a factual correction only serves to reinforce misinformed beliefs, according to a study by political scientists Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler.

That’s something to keep in mind as the presidential campaign races through its final 40 days.

(Hat tip: The Monkey Cage)

Leave A Comment

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.



View All Comments »
  1. Ben says:

    I don’t doubt this is true. It’s too bad.

    Personally, I like what Abraham Lincoln said:

    “I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crises. The great point is to bring them the real facts.”

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  2. Matt V says:

    While no political party has a lock on the truth, liberals seem to hold facts and evidence-based decision making in somewhat higher regard than conservatives. Look at the vigor with which conservatives cling to trickle-down economics and blanket deregulation, not because of the evidence for their efficacy, but often in spite of it.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  3. Travis says:

    This is a pretty well known psychological effect known as commitment and consistency. Psychologically, people prefer to stay consistent with previous beliefs rather than change them to a more correct belief. Many people even do it consciously.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  4. T-Bone says:

    If a person was accused of wrongdoing but then exonerated, I can see how an observer still might have slight doubts that exoneration was accurate. Or if you see a newsflash that your beef is tainted and will kill you, and then a correction comes and says it was actually a smaller subset of beef and yours is fine, you might still worry. Seems reasonable and even logical.

    But to have a defendant exonerated, and that exoneration makes you more likely to believe they are guilty… that’s just nuts. Some sort of cognitive disorder. I don’t know.

    Now I could understand the sentiment if the sources were the National Review or Daily Kos, and so you might tend to believe that the opposite of what they say is true. But certainly you wouldn’t think that about a source that should be friendly or neutral to your preference…

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  5. Paul K says:

    Clearly McCain and Palin did not need to read this research to know it is true. The fact that they continue to outright lie about Palin’s record on everything from selling the plane to the bridge to nowhere shows that it must work. I think there is also the belief that if you repeat a lie often enough (no matter how much it is shown to be a lie), people start to remember it as fact. Cheney and Bush used this with Iraq lies to great effect (and its effect is still felt as many people still think they are true). Sigh.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  6. Dennis says:

    Our political parties are made up of . . . people. People of all walks of life, and both the major

    political parties are prone to do whatever it takes to get their person elected.

    This hyperbole (to be polite) occurs even in our daily lives.

    Neither party has a lock on morality, honesty or the best interests of our population above their own petty political BS.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  7. kebko says:

    Matt V. (#2), if that was satire, it was absolutely brilliant. Bravo.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  8. Alex says:

    Wouldn’t it be funny if people fought misinformation with misinformation?

    We found the Weapons of Mass Destruction, but they turned out to be baking flour. We must fight in Iraq because they attacked Katrina and threaten us with Global Warming. These examples are inane, but this general type of counterpoint may be more effective. When confronted by what one recognizes to be a lie, would people loosen their dogma: The sky is red. No it’s green! Hmm, maybe it’s blue?

    In many ways I feel that talking people down from strong points of view is similar to talking down a suicide jumper. You need to first make them feel you are on their side and then slowing talk them down. That or just totally confuse them.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0